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Mike DeWine signs heartbeat abortion bill into Ohio law. ACLU promises lawsuit

Maggie Prosser
April 11, 2019

Gov. Mike DeWine signed the “Heartbeat Bill” on Thursday, after eight years of the controversial measure falling short of becoming law. The action was met with applause and shouts of “thank you, governor!” by the crowd of about 30 proponents invited inside the governor’s ceremonial Statehouse office.

Elsewhere, critics slammed the measure and promised a strong court challenge.

The new law — which will ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically around six weeks — will take effect July 11 absent a court ruling. Abortions would be allowed if the woman’s life is in danger, but it contains no exceptions for rape or incest.

“The essential function of government is to protect the most vulnerable among us, those who do not have a voice,” the governor said. “Government’s rule should be to protect life from the beginning to the end, to protect those who cannot protect themselves. … The signing of this bill today is consistent with that respect for life.”

DeWine pledged to sign such legislation early in his gubernatorial campaign.

“Pro-life Ohio thanks Gov. DeWine for taking a courageous stand on behalf of unborn children with beating hearts,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, which has supported the bill since late last year.

DeWine has routinely acknowledged that the law with be challenged in court, and that the law is merely a “vehicle” for the Supreme Court to “revisit some of its prior rulings.” After the House passed the measure 56-39 on Wednesday, the governor’s office received 288 phone calls in opposition to the bill and seven in support, a spokesman said.

A couple of hours before the bill-signing, the ACLU of Ohio announced it will take the “Heartbeat Bill” to court, arguing the law is unconstitutional and violates Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

“Gov. DeWine, we’ll see you in court,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland in a statement immediately after the signing.

“Today and every day, we will not accept barriers placed on abortion access by politicians or judges. We refuse to be intimidated by shame and stigma. No one should be forced to carry a pregnancy against their will.”

Similar “Heartbeat Bills” have been struck down in Iowa, Kentucky, Arkansas and North Dakota, although appeals are pending.

“This legislation is blatantly unconstitutional and we will fight to the bitter end to ensure that this bill is permanently blocked,” said Freda Levenson, legal director of the ACLU of Ohio. ”(This) is one of the most aggressive, oppressive and radical attacks against women ever seen in this state and this country. … We feel confident our impending litigation will ultimately prevail.”

Attorney General Dave Yost, whose office will defend the new Ohio law in court, said in a statement: “Sometimes, the evolution of the law requires bold steps. In the last 46 years, the practice of medicine has changed. Science has changed. Even the point of viability has changed. Only the law has lagged behind. This law provides a stable, objective standard to guide the courts.”

Spokeswoman Jamieson Gordon said Ohio Right to Life welcomes the legal battle. “Roe v. Wade is a poorly decided precedent that is long overdue for a challenge. We believe the ‘Heartbeat Bill’ could be the legislation to do just that. We’re confident that pro-life Attorney General Dave Yost will do his best to defend Ohio’s laws.”

Preterm-Cleveland, Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio and the Women’s Med Center of Dayton will be plaintiffs in the suit, the ACLU said.

“This ban adds to Ohio’s devastating track record of passing legislation designed to push abortion care out of reach. Anti-abortion politicians in states like Ohio, and other states trying to end abortion care, have no business interfering in people’s lives and health care,” said Elizabeth Watson of the ACLU.

“We will not stop fighting until everyone in Ohio can make their own personal decisions based on what is best for them.”